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NATIONAL REPORT — Innovation, of course, is a critical component to any convenience store’s growth and overall success. As such, a best-in-class supplier needs to be innovative so that what it provides — particularly new product introductions — play well and do not conflict with the rest of a c-store partner’s products.
“Good brand innovation stays within the spirit of the brand and does not move away from the core offerings. If the innovation is on target with the brand, it should not overlap with the other foodservice offerings within the convenience store,” said Alex Neville, director of international operations for Kahala Brands, which counts Blimpie among its stable of restaurant franchise brands. “Innovation is important to growth. One cannot stand still and expect to move forward.”
Innovation by foodservice partners should be a continual process — not something that occurs once before vanishing into some vapid cloud, never again to be seen.
“New product innovation and introductions offer something new to consumers. We’re always trying to attract new consumers and, at the same time, project the message that the brand is fresh and thriving,” noted Steve Watkins, CEO of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Orion Food Systems, a major supplier of pizza and chicken products to convenience stores. “The use of innovative tools helps sustain awareness of multiple critical aspects of the business, including new product introductions, which helps support the entire foodservice operation.”
But what flexibility should a convenience store operator exhibit if a branded foodservice partner is offering an item or items that the c-store considers unpopular with consumers?
“It depends on the item or requirement that they don’t want to adhere to,” said Sharon Kuncl, vice president of merchandising – foodservice for convenience distributor Eby-Brown Co. LLC. “If the product is a core component of a program, then the retailer needs to comply or they may need to step away from the concept if they can’t make it work.”
From Subway’s perspective, c-store franchisees should always offer a full menu and participate in all marketing programs and offers from their branded foodservice partners. Although Subway’s c-store partners are required to offer the full Subway menu, Allison E. Morrow, Subway’s assistant director of new business development, does recognize that branded partners also need to be flexible.
“Many c-store operators also do business with other brands at the same location,” Morrow said, explaining that those brands often have their own requirements and limitations that can sometimes conflict with Subway’s requirements. “We look at those situations on a case-by-case basis and issue waivers if absolutely necessary.”
Papa John’s discusses the menu with each franchisee prior to entering into an agreement so that both parties agree, according to Joe Smith, senior vice president of global development. For its convenient store locations, the company generally provides limited menu options as the sites have less space than a traditional Papa John’s. C-store locations are not required to offer certain limited-time offers, although many choose to do so to generate additional sales, said Smith.
“This is a top-line game. Sales are still the most important factor for success. One of the issues that we have to consider is the balance of keeping the investment cost as low as possible, but we do not want to make the [convenience store] sites so small that it limits our capacity to serve our customers on a busy Friday or Saturday evening,” Smith continued.
There is no argument that great brands are defined by consistency. And consistency is perhaps the No. 1 factor in whether a c-store operator is able to keep attracting loyal customers to its store(s). In the area of consistency, a branded foodservice partnership can be a vital component in a convenience store chain’s overall messaging.
“The easiest way to lose a guest is through disappointment, and disappointment often starts with not being able to get the same experience from one location to another,” said Kahala Brands’ Neville.
If there are concerns, the foodservice partner and the c-store operator need to work together to understand and overcome the challenges — preferably before the branded foodservice program has even begun. The foodservice partner should understand regional differences, and the convenience store operator needs to understand the national needs of a brand.
Look in the April issue of Convenience Store News for more on branded foodservice partnerships.